Spring at last. It is a pleasure every year at this time to observe how the parks and all the other green spots gradually change into different shades of green, and how the entire city is in bloom. After the long dark winter, everybody seems to be craving sunlight and people have occupied every possible spot in the city, enjoying the intense rays of the spring sun even in spite of chilly Nordic winds. It is also a much more enjoyable season for a tour around Copenhagen’s galleries, so I jump on my bike – which is the most convenient way of getting around the city – to take a look at the latest exhibitions.
Runo Lagomarsino “They Watched Us for a Very Long Time”. 2014. Courtesy of Nils Stærk
Runo Lagomarsino “Against My Ruins” Nils Stærk Through May 17, 2014
I start at Nils Stærk in Carlsberg City – the former area of the Carlsberg breweries – with the exhibition of Runo Lagomarsino; he was born in Argentina, but raised in Sweden and currently lives and works in Sweden and Brazil. Lagomarsino was among the artists representing Denmark at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. The first thing that catches the eye when entering the gallery space is the piece Abstracto El Dorado – a hanging wall covered with shining golden sheets – glowing on one side of the large and almost dark gallery room. It refers to a work by German-Mexican artist Mathias Goeritz, Abstracto En Dorado (1968), and the myth of El Dorado, a utopian city in South America that was covered in gold and gems and which motivated the exploration and conquest of the Spanish conquistadores.
On view in the darkness behind the golden wall is Lagomarsino’s enigmatic film, More Delicate than the Historians are the Map Maker’s Colours. The film features Lagomarsino and his father approaching the imposing and almost frightening egg-shaped Columbus monument in Seville, and then throwing eggs at it – eggs that have been illegally transported from South America to Spain – and then turning around and walking away. The film distinctly reveals Lagomarsino’s engagement with history and deals in a subtly humorous way with the subject matter of colonization and post-colonization.
Runo Lagomarsino “Abstracto El Dorado”. 2014. Courtesy of Nils Stærk
The same theme is also present in the remaining two works – They Watched Us for a Very Long Timeand Pergamon (A Place in Things). The first work, located on the opposite wall, consists of a grid of white metal plates with a hole in the middle of each. The plates were once part of the illumination devices at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, and the holes held light bulbs – which have now left dark traces around the holes. The plates are illuminated by the light that reflects from the shiny golden surface that is directly opposite them.
In a way, the second work can be regarded as an extension of the first one. It is an installation of meticulously arranged rows of light bulbs and fluorescent tubes placed on a raised platform, which itself is behind a bar; the piece creates associations to an exhibit on view in an archaeological or cultural museum – the light bulbs have become historical artefacts themselves. All of the bulbs and tubes are also from the Pergamon Museum, and have previously illuminated the different artefacts from the collection – the cultural treasures brought back from research excursions. The installation points out that the activities of the museum were, in fact, not so different from those of the Spanish conquistadors. In this way, both works reflect on the history of western civilisation.
Ulrik Weck. “Faux Ruin” Installation view. Courtesy of Last Resort Gallery
Ulrik Weck “Faux Ruin” Last Resort Gallery Through May 17, 2014
This time I have decided to focus on the galleries in the city centre, so my next stop is Last Resort Gallery, well hidden in a back yard of Borgergade street, and not far from Bredgade, which is probably the street with the largest number of galleries in Copenhagen. Borgergade is a street under development, but in the past it used to be one of those Copenhagen streets that had a rather doubtful reputation; later it just became dull, even though it is just a few steps away from the posh part of the city. Now the street contains a mixture of trendy restaurants, traditional pubs, design firms, a variety of shops and a few galleries. Last Resort, just founded by the gallerists Peter Amby and Andreas Henningsen, is a fusion of their former galleries, which were some of the most prominent among the generation of younger galleries.
Ulrik Weck “Waiting for the bus (to Faux Ruin)”. 2014. Courtesy of Last Resort Gallery
The opening exhibition is the work of Danish artist Ulrik Weck. Weck works with painting, sculpture and installations, and in a range of materials that include wood, bricks, neon and found objects and materials. With its presence in all of the pieces – including painting and sculpture – brick seems to have been chosen as the key material this time; however, as you approach the works, you realise that what seems to be old brick rubble is actually Styrofoam. The three sculptures represent fragments of a brick wall; one of them balances dangerously on a top of an old washing machine, and refers to the exhibition's title. Also, Weck’s paintings are either directly executed on the same material in a graffiti-like style – as if part of a brick wall has been removed from a building and hung on the gallery wall, or, they are more like collages. Weck explores and plays humorously with the different materials, textures, surfaces and their expressions, as well as with various combinations of them.
Devin Troy Strother - “Nigga you making a mess” (my roomate s going through a Jackson Pollock thing), nigga you need to put down some newspaper, 2014
Devin Troy Strother “Recent Shit” Bendixen Contemporary Art Through May 10, 2014
My next stop is the exhibition of the American artist, Devin Troy Strother, at the nearby Bendixen Contemporary. For some years now, this young L.A. artist has enjoyed huge success, particularly in the USA, with his colourful, cartoonish style. His work can be described as something in between painting and collage, with his characteristic cut-out paper dolls and exotic animals arranged on canvas, panel or paper. In his work he creates humorous, sometimes violent, narratives about race, gender and class, but also about art history and other cultural stereotypes. Nevertheless, race remains the leading subject for Strother. Paper figures with smiling faces, often nude, are depicted as black and white stereotypes – such as the omnipresent black basketball player – as they intermingle in different situations. Also presented are a couple of Strother’s large, flat silhouette sculptures – also featuring the same basketball players.
Strother aims to challenge the common ideas and expectations of what it means to be black, and he also tries to break some of the associated taboos. This is reflected in his often-provocative titles, like the piece, “Nigga you making a mess” (my roommate's going through a Jackson Pollock thing), and “Nigga you need to put down some newspaper”, which at the same time, are also an ironic comment on the art world. The titles act like punchlines and are a blend of slang and the language usually used in the art world.
Maria Rubinke. Installation view. Courtesy of Martin Asbæk Gallery
Maria Rubinke “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” Martin Asbæk Gallery Through May 17, 2014
I am now on Bredgade and start with the Martin Asbæk Gallery, where the work of the Danish artist Maria Rubinke is on view. Rubinke works with ceramics and is renowned for her grotesque and often macabre, but highly fascinating, doll-like white porcelain sculptures of small girls and babies; within a short time, they have earned her extreme success. She belongs to the generation of artists who draw their inspiration from children’s books and the fairytale universe, giving their art a twist of uncanniness and horror. In recent years, a growing number of artists have been working with ceramics with a purely artistic aim, thereby challenging the common idea that people often have about ceramics as a material that is mainly used for utilitarian purposes. Rubinke’s sculptures are very appealing, in a straightforward way, with their delicate sweetness and perfection – which was clearly manifested in the reaction of a family with children passing by the gallery window. They seemed to be rather carried away when their attention was caught by the sculptures inside the gallery, even though they elected not to enter the gallery.
Maria Rubinke. Installation view. Courtesy of Martin Asbæk Gallery
Rubinke has staged the gallery as a phantasmagorical forest in which the white porcelain girls seem to be lost among birch trunks growing from the floor to the ceiling; in one corner of the room, life-size porcelain mushrooms sprout up from the floor. One of these girls-without-faces stands on a heap of black skulls – with an infant in her arms, its umbilical cord still attached; another girl struggles with a snake that has bitten her in the throat. Rubinke’s sculptures balance on the edge of being kitsch, but they all possess surrealistic or somewhat frightening elements, without which they could, conceivably, risk falling into this category of kitsch.
Eva Stenram “Part 1”. 2013. Courtesy of Peter Lav Gallery
Eva Stenram “Decor” Peter Lav Gallery Through May 31, 2014
The photo gallery Peter Lav, located in a yard further up the Bredgade, presents two recent projects by the London-based, Swedish artist, Eva Stenram: Drape and Parts. Both projects consist of a series of black and white and colour photographs that show detached female limbs staged in a way that immediately call to mind erotic and pin-up photography; only here, the rest of the model’s body is absent. For these two projects, Stenram used found pin-up photographs from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as other found material, which she then digitally manipulated. In the project Drape,the model is hidden behind a curtain, or drapes, so that only her limbs are visible. Stenram has moved the drapes that the model is posing in front of to the foreground, thus partly obscuring the model; as a viewer, this leaves you both puzzled and with the desire to get a glimpse of the mysterious woman behind the curtain.
Eva Stenram “Drape VII”. 2012. Courtesy of Peter Lav Gallery
In the project Parts,the body is altogether absent. It has been digitally erased so that all of the photos only show a loose leg detached from the rest of the body, lying on a tacky sofa in different settings. At first sight they could appear as loose legs from a mannequin, but upon closer inspection, you discover their lifelikeness, which makes these detached limbs seem rather disturbing; you suddenly feel that you are witnessing a crime scene.
Stenram presents a fragmented female body in her works to emphasize the body's function as only a decorative element in erotic and pin-up images – images in which often times, the focus is only put on individual body parts.
Gavin Turk “Refuse”. 2012. Courtesy of LARMgallery
Gavin Turk “Pense Bête” LARMgallery Through May 17, 2014
My last stop on the Bredgade is the solo exhibition of British artist Gavin Turk. In the 1990s, along with such names as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin, Turk was among the artists who belonged to the renowned and tremendously successful “young British artists” (YBA) group – with its preference for self-promotion and provocations. The gallery presents a number of Turk’s paintings and sculptures. He has been particularly influential with his sculptures made from a range of materials, but especially so with his painted bronze sculptures. I, too, find his sculptures most fascinating: for example, Flat Tyre,or the one made of his full black trash bags, Refuse, which seem to have been accidentally forgotten on the gallery floor. Both sculptures have been made in several editions. They are everyday objects cast in bronze and done in the most convincing trompe l’oeil manner that they deceive you into believing that what you are looking at is the real thing.
In his work, Turk refers back to the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp, Pop Art, and other icons of the avant-garde movement. The paintings at the exhibition belong to Turk’s Transit Disaster series, and are pastiches of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings from Death and Disaster, as well as from the Self-Portraits with Fright Wig series, in which Turk has replaced the portrait of Warhol with his own portrait. There is also one of Turk’s Piss paintings (Untitled Pool Piss Painting), which is based on Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings and features a green splash on a bronze-coloured background – caused by urine on copper metallic paint on canvas.
Like his predecessors', Turk's works deal with such issues as the mythical role of the artist, authorship and authenticity.
Zoe Williams “Olisboy”. 2013. Courtesy of GL Strand
EXTRACT SOLO: Zoe Williams “You Consume Me” GL STRAND Through May 25, 2014
I end my round at the art venue Kunstforening GL STRAND, with a solo show by Zoe Williams, winner of the EXTRACT Young Art Prize II. This Glasgow-based artist won the prize in 2012 for her submittal to the Young International Award exhibition, and as a winner, was presented with the opportunity to have a solo show at GL STRAND.
Williams works in a wide range of media and materials, and presents herself in this exhibition with photographs, video and sculptural objects. The exhibition is arranged as a form of “total installation” so that you, as a spectator, feel as if you are walking into a David Lynch-kind of universe: a purple velvet curtain covers one of the walls from the floor to ceiling, and you hear the captivating sound of the musical piece I feel Love, which accompanies you throughout the exhibition. The curtain is supposed to repeat and draw attention to the curving shape that occurs in all of the pieces. In this way, Williams strives to make the viewer aware of the space – of the tense, atmospheric environment that she has created – so that the exhibition becomes a sensual experience for the viewer. In her work, Williams is engaged in what can be described as the allure of things – the alluring appeal of the different shapes and the sensuality of materials; how precious objects and materials have seduced people throughout history – and as they still continue to do so. She draws her sources from the worlds of luxury culture, advertising, fashion, craft and ancient symbolism.